The badly damaged main concrete spillway at Oroville Dam was pounded by massive volumes of stormwater this month, but its failures occurred well short of the maximum flow that engineers designed the system to handle.
The spillway began breaking apart when its gates were opened Feb. 7, allowing 55,000 cubic feet of water per second to roar down the slope. That was only 18% of the 300,000 cubic feet of water the channel was designed to carry per second, one of the factors that raise significant questions about its design integrity, engineering experts said. Eventually, the gash that opened up had grown to 500 feet in length and dug a hole 45 feet deep in the earth.
Weakness in the aged concrete, inadequate repairs of cracks and instability in the ground under the spillway caused large pieces of concrete to break apart and tumble downhill, said Robert Bea, a retired civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley who led one of the investigations into the failures of the New Orleans levee system in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.
The failures in the concrete spillway will be investigated for a long time. But some of the nation’s top civil engineers are already pointing to some likely suspects: design flaws, misunderstood geology and poor maintenance over the years.
Read the whole story in the LA Times